Zohrab Center’s Book of the Week – The Other Voice: Armenian Women’s Poetry Through the Ages

by Jennifer Manoukian

As the title indicates, Diana Der-Hovanessian’s The Other Voice: Armenian Women’s Poetry through the Ages introduces readers to the work of over 50 female poets writing between the eighth century to modern day. Many of the poems featured in this collection, especially those written by contemporary poets writing both in the Diaspora and in the Republic of Armenia, appear for the first time in translation, widening the readership and the possibility for greater exploration into Armenian women’s poetry in the future.

Although readers may be more familiar with the poetry of Bedros Tourian or Vahan Tekeyan than with the poetry of their often lesser-known female counterparts, these female poets, frequently writing during the same periods and nourished by similar literary currents, provide an alternative perspective on society at any given time and expand our understanding of the reality gleaned from the work of male literary figures. It should be noted, however, that the female poets in this collection, especially those writing before 1915, represent an elite tier of Armenian society who had the good fortune of receiving an education in their mother tongue and having the leisure time to pursue their literary interests at a time when the vast majority of Armenians, both men and women, were unable to read or write. The earlier poets in this collection are therefore privileged women whose experiences, desires and ideas are not necessarily representative of their contemporaries.

Indicative of very different experiences across centuries and borders, the poets write in a variety of different forms and address a variety of different themes in their work. Beginning with anonymous folk chants and lullabies and an eighth century acrostic poem, there are also a great many ballades, odes and free verse poems in the collection. These poems vary greatly in subject matter, but generally focus on themes relating to two of the poets’ identities: their identities as women and as Armenians.

The poetry in this collection reveals an unwavering pride in their nation and in the unique experience of their sex that unites this otherwise very diverse group of women living in very different circumstances. The collection encourages the reader to reflect on the evolution of what it has meant to be an Armenian women and especially, given modern geographic, cultural and social differences, to reflect on what it means today.

Click here for a digitized version of the book.

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